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Articles Posted in Homicide

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Can a witness testify from the grave? Of course not, right? Well, it turns out that sometimes a deceased witness can testify in a court of law. As absurd as this sounds, the recent murder case of People v. Quintanilla dealt with this issue.

In this case, Quintanilla allegedly shot his girlfriend once killing her. A day after the shooting, the police visited Quintanilla’s house, where he was arrested. During his trial, the prosecutor brought many witnesses into court who spoke about Quintanilla’s relationship with the victim. Much of this testimony related past conversations with the victim before she was killed where she complained about his abuse.  Using this evidence, the jury found Quintanilla guilty of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

The victim, Quintanilla’s now deceased girlfriend, made prior statements about her fear of Quintanilla that were used in court against him. This type of in-court testimony relating out of court prior statements is known as hearsay, evidence given by a witness about another person’s statements (Evid. Code, § 1200, subd. (a).) Hearsay is usually not allowed in courts because this testimony cannot be cross-examined. In Quintanilla’s case, the many witnesses that talked about his abusive relationship with the victim provided hearsay evidence because they provided statements made from someone, the deceased victim, who could not be cross-examined. There are rules, however, that sometimes allow hearsay statements. The prosecutors used a rule known as the forfeiture by wrongdoing.  This exception to the rule that hearsay statements are not allowed occurs when the defendant attempts to prevent a witness from testifying, sometimes by even killing the witness (Evid. Code, § 1390, subd. (a).) Under the forfeiture of wrongdoing rule, the prosecutors convinced the judge that Quintanilla killed his girlfriend, so she could not testify about his history of domestic violence. After the court found Quintanilla guilty, his lawyer on appeal successfully argued that there wasn’t enough evidence that Quintanilla killed his girlfriend in order to prevent her from testifying against him.  In order for the statements from the grave to come into evidence, under the forfeiture by wrongdoing theory, there must be sufficient evidence that the motive for the killing was to prevent the person who made the statement from testifying.  The prosecutor didn’t do that and as a result the statements of the girlfriend should not have been presented to the jury.   As a result, the California State Court of Appeals reversed the conviction against Mr. Quintanilla.  If he is to be convicted in his new trial it will have to be done without his girlfriend’s statements accusing him of abuse.

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What type of action warrants a punishment as severe as 45 years in jail? Of the many crimes that come to mind, I doubt you thought of a single punch. However, on January 3, 2020, the California Court of Appeals upheld the People v Palomar ruling, which sentenced a man to 45 years in jail for a single punch.

The facts of the case were mostly undisputed. The victim, who was intoxicated inside of a bar, expressed derogatory comments about the assailant’s female cousin. Once the assailant approached the intoxicated man, the man began to make racist remarks directed at the assailant. By the end of the night, the assailant, waiting for the drunk man to leave the bar, retaliated by sucker-punching the man only once. With one punch, the victim died by losing balance from the blow and hitting his head on a nearby curb.

While the assailant’s defense attorney argued for involuntary manslaughter, a crime with a significantly shorter prison sentence, the jury sided with the prosecutor’s argument that the assailant committed second degree murder. How did an act that seemed to be caused out of the heat of the moment become second degree murder? The answer relies on the doctrine of implied malice. For second degree murder, there must be apparent malice aforethought. Malice is defined in two ways, expressed and implied. Expressed malice reflects our conventional conception of murder, i.e., “when a defendant manifests a deliberate intention to take away the life of a fellow creature.” (Cravens, supra, 53 Cal.4th at p. 507.) Alternatively, implied malice requires a physical component, “the performance of ‘an act, the natural consequences of which are dangerous to life,” and a mental component, “the requirement that the defendant ‘knows that his conduct endangers the life of another and . . . acts with a conscious disregard for life.” (Id. At p. 508.)

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René “Boxer” Enriquez was a high level Mexican Mafia crime figure. His life was based on intimidation, murder, drug sales and evil. Boxer was a made member of the Mexican Mafia. What’s a made member you ask? It’s somebody who has killed for the Mexican Mafia and is such a trusted comrade that he proudly wears the black hand tattoo.

Sentenced to life in prison for murder and other crimes which he committed on behalf of the Mexican Mafia, he never expected to see the light of day. However, after numerous attempts on his life by other Mexican Mafia gang members, he left Pelican Bay in a helicopter escorted by the FBI and other law-enforcement agents.

What was his destination? It was a new life as a consultant on the government payroll earning thousands of dollars as an informant and an expert witness against his former brothers in the Mexican Mafia. All this while in protective custody housed in a federal prison for a California life sentence. He now writes books, lectures college students and even attends benefit lunches escorted by law-enforcement. In his spare time he testifies as an expert witness for the government in a variety of prosecutions.

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Recently the Orange County Public Defender’s Office filed a 500 page brief with the Orange County Superior Court alleging that their client, Scott Dekraai, had his Constitutional Rights violated by intentional misconduct by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. In essence, among other claims, the OCPD says that prosecutor’s office sent a police informant into the jail AFTER Dekraai was represented by an attorney. Dekraai then made incriminating statements to the informant which were recorded on a hidden recording device. All of this conduct by the OCDA was accomplished with the covert assistance of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Who is Scott Dekraai? Well, he’s the defendant who is charged with murdering 8 people in the biggest mass murder case in Orange County history. In such a heinous case, many would say, who cares? Who cares if law enforcement is covertly recording statements he makes to a police informant.

Well, the United States Constitution cares. That sacred document that spells out all of our rights as citizens and members of a free society, is not just a piece of paper that applies only to those who are sympathetic. The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1964 in Massiah v. U.S. 377 US 201, that after an accused is represented by an attorney, law enforcement cannot interview or get statements out of him out of the presence of his lawyer. The OCDA knows this long standing rule of law yet apparently chose to ignore it in the pursuit of a conviction.

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Los-Angeles-CA-Justice-DENIED.jpgOn November 8, 2013, the Los Angeles Times had a headline that read, “34 year wait for justice is over”. The defendant, Kash Register, was convicted of murder in 1979 on the testimony of a woman named Brenda Anderson. Register spent 34 years in State Prison maintaining his innocence. He couldn’t be paroled because he always maintained his innocence. He refused to admit to a murder he didn’t commit. The Parole Board is programmed to deny parole to those inmates who don’t admit their crime because without an admission, how can the inmate be rehabilitated?

So, Register languished in prison, denied his freedom, the basic human rights of American citizens, but not the love of his family, who believed in him from the beginning. Along came Loyola Law School who diligently sought out the truth.

What truth were they seeking? The truth that the prosecution had failed to disclose to Register’s defense attorneys that Brenda Anderson’s sister had told LAPD before trial that her sister was lying. Brenda Anderson’s sister told the police in 1979 that the man she had seen commit the murder was not Register.

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As almost everyone on planet earth knows, Dr. Conrad Murray was convicted of Involuntary Manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson. On November 29, 2011, Dr. Murray was sentenced to the maximum term of four years in State Prison. How did the judge determine that four years was the appropriate sentence?

The cynical among us might just say that because the deceased was the most famous pop star in the world that the judge would have been crazy to give Dr. Murray anything less than the maximum. Those of that opinion could easily conclude the public expected the maximum and therefore why would the judge do something that would enrage the public and possibly cost him his job in the next election? Those cynical enough to believe that would think the discussion would end right there. But, what did the judge have to do under the law in order to justify the maximum sentence? The answer can be found in the Rules of Court.

The Rules of Court set forth the criteria affecting probation (Rule 4.414). Dr. Murray was technically eligible for probation, no matter how unlikely that might have been as a practical matter. There are two sub-sets to consider: facts that relate to the crime and facts that relate to the defendant.

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Dr. Murray killed Michael Jackson. No doubt about it since the jury found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter. He got sentenced to the maximum term of four years. Dr. Murray won his case when he got convicted. How can I say that when he went through a hard fought trial that lasted weeks and cost him and the taxpayers millions of dollars? According to the evidence, he lied to the paramedics, failed to call 911 in a timely fashion, treated his patient with an extremely dangerous drug under circumstances that failed to meet the most minimum of medical standards among a host of other omissions and commissions. So involuntary manslaughter was the charge and guilty was the verdict. Who says the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office can’t win the big ones? Who says that the District Attorney’s Office loses one high profile case after another? They got their man here didn’t they? Well, yes and no as far as I’m concerned.

Yes, the LADA got a conviction as charged. But, why only charge Dr. Murray with Involuntary Manslaughter? Why not seek a Second Degree Murder conviction? Why not charge both Murder and Involuntary Manslaughter? Based on the facts as presented by the prosecution, the jury could very easily have found Dr. Murray guilty of Second Degree Murder. Why? The real question is why not?

To find a defendant guilty of second degree murder you must look to CalCrim Section 520 which sets out the elements of Second Degree Murder. To prove this is the real crime Dr. Murray is guilty of the DA needed to prove the following: The defendant committed the act that caused the death of Michael Jackson and when he acted he had a state of mind of malice aforethought. The relevant malice element here is implied. Did Murray’s actions consist of the following: 1. Did he intentionally commit an act, and; 2. The natural and probable consequences of the act were dangerous to human life, and; 3. At the time he acted, he knew his act was dangerous to human life, and; 4. He deliberately acted with conscious disregard for human life. Ask yourself, from the facts of this case, wasn’t this the proper charge?

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Before 1997 if someone was injured by a defendant during the commission of a crime and died more than three years and a day after the crime, he could not be convicted of murder. Recently, a case came before the Court of Appeal that tested this assumption.

Two defendants, Robert Duston Strong and David Michael Knick were charged with murder because they shot a sheriff’s deputy more than 30 years before and he recently died of complications from his injuries. Meanwhile, the defendants had served time in prison for their crimes and completed their sentences for the crimes they were charged with at the time.

The legal question became: could the defendants now be charged with murder because the sheriff’s deputy finally succumbed to his injuries many years after the original crime?

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